Intent on covering all the bases, Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin is taking a meticulous approach as far as selecting the ‘Final 12’ for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament set from July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena is concerned.
Baldwin admitted the final roster of Gilas Pilipinas will most likely depend on countering the lineups that will be fielded by their preliminary round foes, European powerhouse France and dangerous New Zealand, in the Manila qualifier that dangles a lone ticket to this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“The first thing everyone wants to see, as much as possible, is the content of the France’s roster and the New Zealand’s roster,” said the 57-year old American-Kiwi coach on Wednesday.
“In the Philippines, we have the opportunity to morph our team a little bit because we have a pretty good depth of players, especially in the guard line.”
Baldwin also sounded confident that naturalized player Andray Blatche will return to boost the Nationals’ drive in their ambitious quest to make a comeback to the world’s grandest stage since the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
“In all likelihood, as per reports of the media yesterday (Tuesday), we should be signing Andray soon,” said Baldwin of the 6-foot-11 Blatche, 29, who is coming off a productive showing with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.
“We know that size cushion he brings to the team will give us some depth because Andray will play a lot of minutes and whoever plays in that slot. It alleviates some of the demand for size depth.”
Who will man the backcourt for Gilas Pilipinas poses a puzzling question for Baldwin, aware the Nationals could face a height disadvantage if and when their opening-day opponent France, the highest ranked teams in the qualifiers at No. 5, utilizes versatile wingman Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets at the 2-guard spot.
“We know our guards can score. We know that when you look at the choice of selecting LA Tenorio, Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo and Paul Lee to cover the point (guard) position, you’ll be getting a lot of points. They all have that distinct quality to offer this team,” said Baldwin. “But can any of them slide, not only offensively, but also defensively to the 2-guard slot? Can they do that job well?
And who they’ll be trying to duel with? If we see France going to play Batum, most likely at the 2-guard, then that presents a problem from a size-standpoint if we try slide those guards over.”
Baldwin said they are also considering to give France a dose of its own medicine, with Gilas Pilipinas out to pounce on the smaller Tony Parker, a veteran of international play who is standing at 6-foot-2.
“Where do we decide to go big and where do we decide to invest or anticipate investing minutes.
Is it going to be that we expect to see Gabe (Norwood) play more minutes because of his defensive prowess on the wings and the type of wings that France will come out with? Or do we say we wanna go big against Parker because Parker will be there so its minimizes the need for smaller point guards,” said Baldwin.
Pulling the rug from under France, the favorites to top the Manila qualifiers, isn’t the only task of Gilas, stressed Baldwin.
“Are we gonna be more of an offensive-oriented or a defensive-oriented against France? Of course, if you figure out how to beat France, then how you stack up against your next opponents? Because you don’t select your team based on that teams anticipating failure. But we need to beat France. We can survive if we dot beat France against New Zealand. But there’s no guarantee New Zealand is going to lose against France,” he said.
“They (the Tall Blacks) have beaten them before. So it will be foolish of us to take that path for saying ‘Let’s invest everything to beat New Zealand and hope that New Zealand loses to France.’ That’s a foolish thing. We have to be playing for the worst case scenario and we have to try avoiding that scenario. And that mean’s preparing to beat France. And if we beat France, we have to beat New Zealand. If we do that, we might face Canada or Turkey (in the second round) and how does your roster stack up against them.”
Added Baldwin: “It’s a very complicated process. you’ll give it a lot of thoughts, a lot of time and a lot of discussion.
We don’t expect to get it 100 percent right on every scenario and that means somebody will have to sit out. But that’s life and this is where I kind of have lived my life in international tournaments, so many of this things.”
Baldwin added the chemistry among the soon-to-be-selected Gilas players will serve as the ultimate key in realizing their lofty goal.
“That’s the challenge. The players will accept what they have to do. They have great attitude. Along with trying to get the right mix of players against our opponents, it must be the right mix of players for themselves as well. And that’s where the chemistry aspect of the team is very important,” he said.
The national team training session every Mondays is also a welcome sight for Baldwin.
“Even these Monday night sessions, it gives us the opportunity to even take some smell steps forward at the time over our challengers and virtually no other team in the world has the opportunity to assemble and promote their campaign this year.”
“When we finally assemble in May, we can make giant strides forward because we have taken all these small steps. The whole basketball landscape here is making a massive effort for Gilas. If they can be done, I think we’re doing it. If not, let us know. But i can assure you, we will try,” he concluded. – By Jerome Lagunzad
Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports